Long before Tom Cruise and the movie, there was an actual “Top Gun” Naval program which began five years into the Vietnam War. The guy who started it was just pissed off that micro-managers in the US Government were forcing new rules of engagement on jet fighters. This resulted in the kill ratio dropping from 12 of theirs shot down to one of ours – all the way to a dismal 2-1.
Sound familiar? Yes, this was the beginning of Washington DC fighting wars instead of American servicemen and women and the result was getting Americans killed. It is only now being turned around, but there was one man who 50 years ago had had enough:
Capt. Dan Pederson, Author of “TOPGUN”: An American Story”, joined Stuart Varney on set to talk about how he created the navy’s top gun program and more importantly – why? Scroll down for video..
Originally called the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, it was founded after a 1968 study determined that U.S. pilots needed better training, with the intention of changing the way those pilots flew and fought. And that it did, says Capt. Dan Pedersen, who is considered the “godfather” of TOPGUN for helping start the program.
Capt. Dan Pederson, Author of "TOPGUN": An American Story", joined Stuart on set today to talk about how he created the navy's top gun program. #TopGun #VarneyCo
Posted by Varney & Co. on Tuesday, March 5, 2019
The Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada is most famous for its connection with the 1986 movie Top Gun. Its TOPGUN program — which turned 50 on March 3 — went by that nickname long before the movie, which was made with the cooperation of the military, introduced the terminology to the wider public.
The movie was a hit, prompting a surge in real-life recruiting as well as interest in a sequel (which was supposed to come out this summer, but is now not expected to hit theaters until the summer of 2020). And the school is still teaching American pilots to fly.
Pedersen: We were losing a lot of great talent in Vietnam. When I was on the USS Enterprise in 1967, we lost 11 guys in 17 days. We were getting two enemies, North Vietnamese, for every one of us that was shot down out there. Captain Frank Ault wrote a report and one of his recommendations was that they started a graduate-level school to better train pilots. So I was sent to Naval Air Station Miramar, and I recruited eight other guys to help start the program. I was 32, and the youngest of the nine was 22.
MiGs [Soviet planes] had a better turn rate, so it could get around you and shoot you down. Phantoms had great power, so we could out-fly the MiGs in terms of speed. So we decided to go straight up, go above them and fly down to a perfect position behind the MiG, and go for a tail shot. Then with tactics like that, we were getting 24 of the enemies for every one of us.
What did you like about the movie Top Gun?
The movie was 55% percent positive. The flying was superb, probably someone of the best camera photography of tactical airplanes that’s ever been done. Kelly McGillis’ character was based on a real advisor to the admiral at Miramar. She was very well thought of and went on to be the acting Deputy Defense Secretary. The academies had more people applying [after the movie came out]. If it keeps the Navy recruiters busy, I’m all for it.
A lot of pilots are getting out and going to work for an airline, where they can make make two or three times the money and go home to see their family. The people at TOPGUN ought to be given more of an advisory role in the acquisition of new hardware and weapons. You don’t need politicians in Washington or civil-service people [deciding] what you’re going to fight the war with. They get too caught up with new weapons and systems that are so expensive. Then the pilots are overwhelmed with things they don’t need in the airplane. All it takes is a single bullet in the right place to do you in.